So, you want to be a web developer. The one problem? … You have no experience working in the tech industry (usually no at all). You’ve taken courses and spent hours on personal coding projects, but the
Experience section of your resume is still glaringly irrelevant. Transitioning into a new field is never simple. You wonder if you’re ready. You wonder if anyone will take you seriously. You wonder if you can get work.
Trust me: don’t let those doubts get in your way. In truth, it’s not that difficult – as long as you make sure you’re adequately prepared before making the leap. These seven guiding steps will help you make a seamless transition into web development.
1. Get clear about what you want to do.
The clearer you can be, the more specialized a plan you’ll be able to develop. Don’t cast too wide a net: narrow down your choices.
- Front end or back end development?
- User experience designer or user interface engineer?
- Angular.js or React.js?
While there is some value in being a jack of all trades, most companies (and clients, if you’re a freelancer) are hiring for a specific role, with specific skill sets.
How can you get clear about what it is you want to specialize in? Trial and error, research, and skills assessment tests are a good place to start. But knowing yourself is more important: your likes, your dislikes. Do you want to write code all day? Do you prefer designing interfaces? Figure it out.
2. Research jobs and companies you want to work for.
This can be as simple as scouring job ads. Do any specific titles stand out to you? Read the descriptions and see if you can picture yourself in that role.
When it comes to companies, this is easier than ever with sites like Glassdoor that make it simple to spy on companies. From Glassdoor, you can not only get a ballpark idea of salaries, but also read reviews from current and former employees. Another tactic is to look at people on LinkedIn who actually work in the positions you desire.
Compile a list/spreadsheet of dream job titles, at dream companies.
3. Identify skills/experience you need to work in those roles and at those places.
Now that you have this list of jobs at companies you are interested in, it’s time to figure out what skills and experience they look for – and where there are overlaps.
An overlap is a skills or experience point that keeps reappearing in these listings. Make sure to note these on your spreadsheet. Are they using React or Angular? MEAN stack or Ruby on Rails?
Another way you can see the technologies being used on a company’s site is by utilizing a tool like BuiltWith. This shows you the frameworks, languages, and more that the site relies on. For instance, we can see that Airbnb uses Ruby on Rails.
4. Fill in the skills you are missing.
You now have a spreadsheet of dream jobs, at dream companies, and skills/tools that keep reappearing in the listings for those positions.
Now, identify which skills are easier to conquer than others.
You may have related experience already in some areas. Like at your current role, even if it’s not technical, you could use some similar software that is required in both positions – like Microsoft Excel.
Some of these skills, plain and simple, are easier to learn – like learning Google Analytics, as opposed to, say, a JS library like React when you have little previous JS experience.
Take courses online and/or in person. Read books and/or blog posts. Work on each skill in bite-sized chunks in your free time; trying to learn everything at once is much more likely to overwhelm you.
5. Build evidence to support your case.
Next, you want to develop some compelling examples of your work.
It can be hard when first starting out, but here are a few ways you can build up your experience:
- Do pro-bono work for friends/family
- Build your own projects
- Volunteer at a non-profit
When working for free or cheap, make sure to ask for testimonials or recommendations on LinkedIn in return for your time and effort. Also make sure to add any code on GitHub.
6. Put yourself out there by networking and building an online presence.
Most open positions are filled by being recruited or referred. The traditional application process is virtually dead. And people aren’t just going to stumble upon you hiding in your bedroom browsing Monster.com. You need to put yourself out there.
Here are a few ways to do just that:
Way #1: Network in real life with industry people.
Go to meetups, events and conferences. Afterward, connect with people you met on LinkedIn or Twitter. If you met someone with the job you want (or someone who hires for the job you want!), ask them to get coffee for 15 minutes.
Relationship building is critical – especially for newbies. By forging connections with people who have the job or experience you want, you’re creating inroads to companies you may want to work for.
I already hear some groaning:
But I live in the middle of nowhere! And I don’t have the funds to fly to SF or NYC for the hottest conferences.
Which brings me to …
Way #2: Network online.
You don’t need to literally be face-to-face to network. You can start a blog, join Facebook and LinkedIn groups, attend virtual conferences, connect with people through email, do Skype calls, contribute to open-source projects, and more.
Note that even in a digital world, it’s a little bit harder when people only know you from a screen. However, these online approaches are still viable methods to start building name recognition.
7. Restructure your resume/LinkedIn/portfolio.
As you’ve been brushing up on your skills and networking with industry people, it’s time to spruce up that resume/LinkedIn/portfolio.
First, identify transferable skills. Certain traits are desirable in almost any role. These can include presentation skills, communication, leadership, time management, problem-solving ability, etc.
Next, emphasize your accomplishments. Technical or not, highlight achievements that make you look like an A-player. Even if it’s more of a hobby than a professional accomplishment. (Like how your Paleo food blog won X award.) The tech industry is quirky, anyways. They want a diversity of backgrounds, passions, etc. within their employees.
Finally, make a data-backed case that you can succeed in a tech role. AKA, show evidence. This could be a portfolio site with real samples, a GitHub profile with impressive project repositories and contributions, a blog where you’ve written about what you do, stellar LinkedIn recommendations, or a combination of these.
You’re all ready to start prepping for your transition into web development! Now, these are just the first steps – the
foot in the door stage. Next, you need to ace the interview. And once you’ve landed the job, you’ll need to wow them so you can keep climbing the ladder and moving to bigger and better things. In the tech industry, learning never stops. But that’s half the fun.